When one thinks of classical musical, centuries-old compositions by European masters usually come to mind. However, it's often been said that jazz is "American classical music."
These thoughts emerge when playing Refractions, the new CD by the Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra.
One of the most respected figures in big band jazz for two decades, L.A.-based saxophonist/composer/arranger Kim Richmond takes it up a notch with his latest recording. He blends a collection of original compositions and arrangements of classics into a lush, cinematic soundscape.
"I am seeking a broader emotional palette for jazz," Richmond says in a press release. "I feel that all too often, jazz, especially for large ensemble, expresses only a small range of emotions. My writing for this 24-piece jazz orchestra combines elements of both large ensemble jazz with free-swinging improvisation and symphonic colors and textures."
The result is a stunning hour and 14 minutes of swinging, orchestral jazz.
Interestingly, the orchestra makes fine use of instruments normally not associated with jazz. In fact, it was just two weekends ago that I heard a college student ask the very question. During a workshop featuring the Yellowjackets, a musician who was part of a college jazz ensemble inquired about opportunities for the oboe or the bassoon in jazz. The response was that the reeds alone would be problematic for most people, although that was not to discourage anyone from trying.
Richmond's orchestra not only includes those instruments, but also features them in solos.
We first get a whiff of this during Michel LeGrand's Fantasy on You Must Believe in Spring. With Bob Florence on piano, Jeff Driscoll on alto sax and Ron King on trumpet, we're treated to Phil Feather's oboe, which provides an excellent melodic exclamation.
The woodwinds also make their presence felt on Tumbling Tumbleweeds, a country-western tune that is the basis for free-form improvising. Adding to the unusual nature of this song is the presence of dueting bassists Trey Henry and Ken Wild.
Other selections of note include Franz, inspired by Franz Schubert's Serenade, with Henry and drummer Ralph Razze setting the exotic rhythmic mood; an adaptation of Stella by Starlight, which was inspired by an interpretation rendered in the mid 1960s; and Precious Promises, which features the sounds and textures that unique to this orchestra ñ double reeds, multi-flutes and French horns.
The album closes with a charming rendition of America the Beautiful.The Mike Crotty arrangement has long been a Richmond favorite. On this track, he augmented the song by adding an intro and an ending, as well as French horn, tuba and percussion parts. Richmond states the beautiful melody on soprano saxophone, and John Yoakum has the delightfully irreverent improvised solo on tenor.
Refractions has the look and feel of a classical score, perhaps even a motion picture soundtrack. But any way you look at it, it's still jazz.